When a gentle family stroll on the beach turns into a mad dog nightmare
In a blur — without so much as a warning bark or growl — the pit bull surged against its leash, latched on to Mack’s throat and began thrashing him about.
I had a terrible dream last weekend… a premonition of sudden and unprovoked savagery in which I flailed vainly against a powerful and cold-hearted beast.
Seven hours later, that nightmare exploded into reality during a family outing to the beach at Durban’s Point Waterfront with our four-month-old puppies, Mack and Maeve.
The pups are “rescue dogs”, the result of a union between a Border Collie and a Staffie, possibly with some Labrador mixed in somewhere along the line — though we can’t be sure.
Mack (15kg) and Maeve (13kg) both have striking black and white pied coats, though not quite as shaggy as Border Collies. They have become inseparable, boisterous siblings who have brought renewed joy to our lives after the recent death of our two 15-year-old Labrador cross Ridgebacks.
Back in my dream, I see a large pit bull grabbing one of the puppies. I am punching the brute in the ribs, hoping desperately that this will force him to let the puppy go.
But it’s not working… nothing is.
As with many dreams, you wake up in confusion, replaying the unresolved scenarios in your mind. Then you move on with the rest of the day.
Above: A video clip of Mack and Maeve’s first trip to the beach.
We had decided the night before to take the pups to the Point, the second time we had taken them there to splash about in the shallow waves in a relatively secure family space.
A few weeks back we took them to this beach, initially harnessed for their safety, but then released when we felt it was safe to do so.
In between scrambling helter-skelter up and down the beach and splashing in the calm and shallow surf, they met many other dogs, big and small, sniffing, exploring, bounding about in joy in this open space.
They met mutts of all breeds, including a large, black pit bull-cross, who — though intimidating by his sheer size and appearance — showed no hint of aggression. His owner assured us that he had made a deliberate effort to socialise his pet with people and other dogs since puppyhood, and was very confident and relaxed about taking the animal into public spaces.
Before taking Mack and Maeve to the beach, we took them to several puppy training classes to meet and interact with other dogs from the very outset.
My wife and I also take them regularly to a wonderful public space — Bridgevale Park — a hitherto neglected piece of land that has been restored by the dedicated Enviro-Fixers group in Durban North.
Here they have met towering Great Danes, Irish Terriers and plump sausage dogs — all manner of hounds as part of our conscious effort to introduce them to other dogs at an early age in neutral and, hopefully, safe territory where they can be released temporarily from their leashes.
I have seen several dog fights over the years and remain alert to what can happen in a flash. But I have also marvelled at how most dogs interact happily in the parks of large cities. Paranoia and caution compete against hope and trust.
(Bridgevale Park, incidentally, is a remarkable story for another time, about how a group of people are reclaiming community spaces and restoring nature in an urban environment.)
But, back to my nightmare at the Point.
It started off well. The pups met several other dogs, some on leashes, some not, including a middle-aged Boston terrier who seemed a bit nervous at first, but he saw the pups were no threat and soon relaxed. Then they met a slinky and terrifically speedy whippet who outpaced them with no effort as they raced up and down the sandy shoreline.
What a great day to be alive, relaxing on the Durban beachfront on a glorious Saturday morning, 13 November.
And then I saw him. The beast from my dream.
A big, caramel brown pit bull and a second dog being walked on their leashes by a husband and wife.
Our pups were off their leashes and they trotted away — tails wagging and trusting — to greet the latest arrivals.
As a precaution, my wife called out: “Are your dogs okay?”
The man seemed to signal that there was no cause for alarm and made no visible sign of shortening the leash to control his “pet” (Diesel was its name, my son told me later).
My premonition bell was ringing very loudly now, but the pups were already there. It was too late to call them back — even if they would listen.
In a blur — without so much as a warning bark or growl — the pit bull surged against its leash, latched on to Mack’s throat and started thrashing him about.
Mack is probably a quarter of his size, a playful puppy posing no threat whatsoever.
The pit bull could have backed off then, having taught the pup who was boss. But I have no doubt it was in a blind, mindless rage, intent on killing him.
He pulled the pup down to the sand, gripping his throat in a death lock and held on, savagely. Interminably.
What to do?
The owner was tugging and shouting at his “stupid, naughty dog” to let go. To stop.
I was punching the pit bull in the ribs, as I had done in my dream, hoping to distract or wind it enough to momentarily release the throat grip on Mack, who was squealing in terror. In this melee, Mack also bit into my forearm several times, his eyes wide with terror and close to expiring.
And then, by a miracle, a hero arrived.
A very muscular, quick-thinking man came across. He leaned down and put a powerful arm-lock around the pit bull’s neck, finally compelling it to release its grip before the light faded from Mack’s eyes.
Without his swift intervention and bravery, this story would have ended on the beach. A malevolent killer with a lifeless corpse clamped in its jaws.
Incredibly, Mack survived. We rushed him to the vet where the puncture wounds to his neck were irrigated and he was treated with antibiotics and painkillers. Yesterday he returned to the vet for further treatment to drain the swollen, infected wounds. He came home last night with four rubber tubes protruding from his shaved neck and with a large plastic “lampshade” to stop him from biting the drain tubes off. He is whining at my feet now, separated from his sibling for the next four days and struggling to adapt to life with a large, foreign object chafing his neck.
So far, the medical bills for Mack and the more minor wounds to my arm have come to nearly R7,000.
Will we take our pups back to the beach again — or to any other public spaces — after this ordeal?
Right now, I’m not so sure.
Who is to know how many other “pet-lovers” will — knowingly — be walking their bred-to-kill animals there, heedless to the risks posed to other dogs or young children?
Perhaps Mr and Mrs “Diesel” will profess shock, rationalising that their animal is a loving and much-loved pet, somehow acting out of character. Or that it was entirely our fault for not keeping the puppies leashed at all times. The couple vanished from the beach immediately, so I have no idea who they are.
But if they did not already know, long ago, then surely they can no longer be under any illusion about the true nature of the beast they have chosen to rear and shelter. DM